Refutation: How Did Abu Hurayra (ra) Narrate Many Hadith?

by Kaleef K. Karim



The respectable Sahaba (companion) Abu Hurayra, is the target of many attacks by the Quranists (Hadith-rejecters) and Shias. They say, “how can Abu Hurayra narrate so many hadiths when he  was with the Prophet three years only and yet all the senior companions were with him a lot longer but yet didn’t narrate this much Hadith?” These misconceptions will all be answered in this article thoroughly, God willing. Professor Jonathan Brown writes,

From the beginning of Islam, Muhammed’s words and deeds were of the utmost interest to his followers. He was the unquestioned exemplar of faith and piety in Islam and the bridge between God and temporal world…. Those companions who knew how to write tried to record the memorable statements or actions of their prophet. As paper was unknown in the Middle East at the time (it was introduced from China in the late 700s), the small notebooks they compiled , called Sahifas, would of consisted of papyrus, parchment (tanned animal skins), both were very expensive, or cruder substances such as palm fronds. Although there is some evidence that the prophet ordered the collections of his rulings on taxation, these Sahifas were not public documents; they were private notes of individual companions. Some of the companions recorded as having a Saihfa were jabir Jabir B. Abdullah, Ali B. Abi Talib, Abu Huraira and Abdullah B. Amr. B al-As .

Certain companions were more active in amassing, memorizing, and writing down hadiths than others.  We often find that it is often the most junior Companions of the prophet who became the most prolific collectors of Hadiths. Abu Hurayra (Died.58/678), who knew the prophet for only three years, is the largest single source for Hadiths, with approximately 5300 narrations in the later Hadiths collections. Although he did not write Hadiths down in his early career, by his death Abu Hurayra had boxes full of Sahifas he had compiled. Abdullah B. Umar the son of Umar Ibn Khattab, was 23 years old when the prophet died and is the second largest source for hadiths , with approximately 2600 narrations recorded in later collections.
Ibn Abbas (D.68/686), who was only 14 old (or 9 according to some sources) when the prophet died is the fifth largest source with around 1700 Hadiths. Since companions like Ibn Abbas and Abu Hurayra only knew the prophet for a short time, they apparently, amassed their number of Hadiths by seeking them out from senior Companions.  Abu Hurayra is thus rarely recorded as saying “I heard the prophet of God say…” – more often he simply states indirectly that “the prophet said….” Just as today we regularly   quote people whom we did not hear directly, this would of been normal for the companions. The obsession with specifying direct oral transmission with no intermediary, which characterized later Hadiths Scholars, did not exist during the first generations of Islam. [1] 

Now let’s see what Abu Hurayra says about himself:

Narrated Abu Huraira: People say that I have narrated many Hadiths (The Prophet’s narrations). Had it not been for two verses in the Qur’an, I would not have narrated a single Hadith, and the verses are: “Verily those who conceal the clear sign and the guidance which We have sent down . . . (up to) Most Merciful.” (2:159-160). And no doubt our Muhajir (emigrant) brothers used to be busy in the market with their business and our Ansari brothers used to be busy with their property (agriculture). But I (Abu Huraira) used to stick to Allah’s Apostle contented with what will fill my stomach and I used to attend that which they used not to attend and I used to memorize that which they used not to memorize.  (Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 3, Number 118)


Narrated Abu Huraira: People say that I narrate too many narrations of the Prophet; once I met a man (during the life-time of the Prophet ) and asked him, Apostle’s recite yesterday in the ‘Isha’ prayer?” He said, “I do not know.” I said, “Did you not attend the prayer?” He said, “Yes, (I did).” I said, “I know. He recited such and such Sura.” (Sahih Bukhari Book 2 ,Volume 2,  Number 314)


Narrated Abu Huraira: You people say that Abu Huraira tells many narrations from Allah’s Apostle and you also wonder why the emigrants and Ansar do not narrate from Allah’s Apostle as Abu Huraira does. My emigrant brothers were busy in the market while I used to stick to Allah’s Apostle content with what fills my stomach; so I used to be present when they were absent and I used to remember when they used to forget, and my Ansari brothers used to be busy with their properties and I was one of the poor men of Suffa. I used to remember the narrations when they used to forget. No doubt, Allah’s Apostle once said, “Whoever spreads his garment till I have finished my present speech and then gathers it to himself, will remember whatever I will say.” So, I spread my colored garment which I was wearing till Allah’s Apostle had finished his saying, and then I gathered it to my chest. So, I did not forget any of that narrations. (Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 34, Number 263)


Ibn Shihab transmitted on the authority of Ibn Musayyib that Abu Huraira said: People say that Abu Huraira transmits so many ahadith, whereas Allah is the Reckoner, and they say: How is it with Muhajirs and the Ansar that they do not narrate ahadith like him (like Abu Huraira)? Abu Huraira said: I tell you that my brothers from Ansar remained busy with their lands and my brothers Muhajirs were busy in transactions in the bazars, but I always kept myself attached to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) with bare subsistence. I remained present (in the company of the Holy Prophet), whereas they had been absent. I retained in my mind (what the Holy Prophet said), whereas they forgot it. One day Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: He who amongst you spreads the cloth and listens to my talk and would then press it against his chest would never forget anything heard from me. So I spread my mantle and when he had concluded his talk I then pressed it against my chest and so I never forgot after that day anything that he (the Holy Prophet) said. And if these two verses would not have been revealed in the Book I would have never transmitted anything (to anybody):” Those who conceal the clear evidence and the guidance that We revealed” (ii. 159) tip to the last verse.  (Sahih Muslim Book 45, Number 6555)


Narrated Abu Huraira: The people used to say, “Abu Huraira narrates too many narrations.” In fact I used to keep close to Allah’s Apostle and was satisfied with what filled my stomach. I ate no leavened bread and dressed no decorated striped clothes, and never did a man or a woman serve me, and I often used to press my belly against gravel because of hunger, and I used to ask a man to recite a Quranic Verse to me although I knew it, so that he would take me to his home and feed me. And the most generous of all the people to the poor was Ja’far bin Abi Talib. He used to take us to his home and offer us what was available therein. He would even offer us an empty folded leather container (of butter) which we would split and lick whatever was in it.  (Sahih Bukhari Volume 5, Book 57, Number 57)

Another question that is posed is, “how come none of the Sahabah (companions), the senior ones never narrated as many Hadiths as Abu Hurayra did?” Professor Jonathan Brown says the following on this,

“Interestingly, those companions who spent the most time with the prophet during his public life rank among the least prolific Hadiths transmitters. The prophet’s close friend and successor , Abu Bakr, his cousin/son-in-law, Ali B. Abi Talib and close advisor Umar Ibn Khattab are the sources for only 142, 536, and 537 Hadiths respectively. These prominent early Muslims, who were looked to as leaders responsible for decisions and religious rulings after the prophets death, seem to have preserved the spirit of Muhammed’s teachings in their actions and methods of reasoning rather than by citing his hadiths directly.”[2]

As we have read from all of the above reports, most of the Sahabas (companions) were too busy with their lives, while Abu Hurayra was constantly with Prophet  Muhammed throughout the last 3 years of his life. Another thing to note from Jonathan Brown, Abu Hurayra never got all the Hadiths directly from the Prophet (p), most of it was reported through other companions that were with the prophet Muhammed a lot longer.


[1] Jonathan Brown “Hadith Muhammed’s Legacy in the Medieval world” page 18-19
[2] Ibid page 20


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